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Does a seller have to disclose lead paint?

You know that lead paint is a safety issue, but you may also be aware that in California and across the country, paint has been lead-free for decades. However, in older homes, the lead-based paint may still be present. Because you just bought an older house, learning about the possibility has you worried. But wouldn't the seller have to disclose such a major safety issue?

According to the California Department of Public Health, the answer is yes, the seller must tell you if he or she knows that there is a lead-based paint hazard in the home. There is a federal law, the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Act of 1992, that requires disclosure.

Not only does the seller have to disclose the presence of lead paint, legally, he or she must also allow you 10 days to conduct an inspection of the home for lead hazards before you make the purchase. The seller should also have provided you with a copy of the pamphlet about the dangers of lead paint published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Although the seller has to let you know about the danger, he or she does not have to have it removed.

But what if the seller does not know about the hazard? In that case, if you discover that there is lead-based paint, the previous owner is not on the hook for the lack of disclosure. If the seller purchased the home since 1977, though, he or she should also have received a disclosure, so there is a good chance that the knowledge was passed on. If there is no disclosure, and the seller does not know, he or she is not legally obligated to order an inspection. 

There are some circumstances, such as the sale of homes built after 1977, or foreclosure sales, where disclosure is not necessary. Because this information is only a general overview of the law, it should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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